The accomplished poet and writer of fiction, Frances Leviston, returned for a fortnight of workshops, assemblies, talks and masterclasses.
Frances has been our writer in residence for over a decade, joining us each year to teach English classes, record an academic lecture on poems from the GCSE syllabus for Year 11, and judge a creative writing competition. Congratulations to this year’s competition winners, who were awarded Daunt Books vouchers: Florence and Amelie in Year 7, plus a special mention to Elizabeth; Asantewaa in Year 8; Poppy and Marina in Year 9; Sofiia and Sylvie in Year 10; Sophia in Year 11; and Talia, Amalie and Alex in the Lower Sixth.
Throughout her residency, Frances has hosted dozens of keen creative writers looking to develop their poetry and fiction in her masterclass sessions. During her visit to our Lower School creative writing club, Scheherazade, Frances shared Zaffar Kunial’s evocative poem, Foxglove Country; students were then encouraged to select a word of some significance to them and explore its sounds, meanings, anagrams and associations – an inspiring task, challenging students to think creatively on phonetic and semantic levels.
With students in our Lower Sixth A Level English Literature classes, Frances led workshops on re-creative writing. For coursework, students have the opportunity to write an original piece inspired by the style, voice and interests of a studied writer. Frances’ selection of story, Eley Williams’ Platform from her collection Attrib. and Other Stories, was simultaneously moving and humorous with recognisable stylistic qualities the classes could identify, analyse and emulate. Taking inspiration from the narrator’s response to a photograph in Williams’ story, students were encouraged to write a story with a first-person narrator responding to a photograph with a blend of gravity and levity, featuring the free associations of Williams’ original narrator.
Photography has become a new source of creativity in the life of our veteran writer in residence, having recently acquired her first serious camera and taken up an interest in the artform. Frances delivered an engaging, thought-provoking talk on the intersections of poetry and photography during one lunchtime. With primary focus on the poetry of Adrienne Rich and the theories of Roland Barthes in his Camera Lucida, Frances explored the symbolic and philosophical significance of poetry and photography in relation to time and space. Her responses to students’ questions, including a brilliant one about the relative value of an artist’s intentions versus a viewer’s responses, continued to develop the illuminating power of her speech. As our Head of English put it, her talk was like hearing the unfolding of an artful poem.
Frances has been re-inspiring our creative writers for many years. The impact of her annual fortnight with us has ongoing ripple effects in the ambition and creativity she fosters in students and in the wonderful way she models the teaching of creative writing to the department. We look forward to welcoming her back in 2025 following her year away in the United States for a special fellowship as the Blackburn Distinguished Writer in Residence at Duke University.